'A Picture of Vibrant Beauty and Simmering Intrigue'
Kenneth Branagh, Daisy Ridley, Penélope Cruz, Michelle Pfeiffer
My favorite film critic of all times, the dear late Roger Ebert, once eloquently put that he was envious of everyone who haven't seen the greats like "Citizen Kane", "Casablanca" or for that matter "The Pledge", as he felt that they still had such ravishing experiences to experience that he himself had already done.
As I sat through the recent adaptation of Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express, I kept remembering his words as that was exactly the case for me as I had already seen the exquisite 1974 film of the same name by Sydney Lumet and this picture had very little for me to experience first-hand in terms of plot, drama, and twists. Having said that, Kenneth Branagh's version of the story is still a ravishing and sweeping epic that will largely appeal to the ones who aren't aware of the plot or those who haven't seen any version of it before.
The Belgian sleuth Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) is on his way back from Istanbul traveling on the Orient Express. While on board, a man named Ratchett (Depp) makes an offer to him to watch his back as he believes he is in danger. Poirot refuses. That night as the train gets stuck in an avalanche, Ratchett is brutally murdered and Poirot is brought in to solve the mystery. He now has to sip through the lives of 12 passengers and staff who are sharing the same compartment and track down the murderer.
As I mentioned before, Murder on the Orient Express is a picture of exquisite beauty. Practically every frame is dripping wet with lush colors, sweeping angles and great looking people and vistas. It is the kind of film that you should watch sitting right in the middle of a theater letting yourself not be too far from the screen and being devoured by an avalanche of colors and artistic camera work.
The ensemble cast delivers. Led from the front by Kenneth Branagh, the performances help immerse you in the narrative. Everyone on the train is hiding some secret or the other and it is evident from the manner in which they act when in the presence of Poirot. Yet they present the best and most confident side of theirs to Poirot and you as the viewer. I loved Branagh's interpretation of Poirot. Branagh's Pirot has good hair, is not fat and has a dashing persona that would make even the devil fall in love with him. His mustache too is worlds different from what we have seen in the other avatars of Poirot.
Michelle Pfeiffer is great in her act. She is still as ravishing and transfixing as she was when she played the sly "Catwoman". The final twist brings out the best in her act. Daisy Ridley is noteworthy in her act. She has one of the métier roles among the supporting cast and she does well to make the most of it. Judi Dench is a pleasure as always and so is Willem Dafoe. Johnny Depp as the bad guy Ratchett is terrific. He sets the right tone for the character and one look at him and you know that he could do what he was accused of. Penélope Cruz is wonderful in a de-glam avatar.
Murder on the Orient Express is a visual treat with great performances and direction.
'Coco is Food for the Soul and Senses'
Lee Unkrich, Adrian Molina (co-director)
Anthony Gonzalez, Gael García Bernal, Benjamin Bratt, Alanna Ubach
It's irrelevant to speak about the animation quality of Pixar. We know every Pixar film is meticulously animated and they have over the years bordered on turning the animated visuals so life-like that we mistake them for the real things. Pixar is also known for its varied color palate. Finding Nemo was one film that I wanted to sit in the first row off and wanted the visuals to wash over me. Hence I went into Coco expecting those things but what surprised me was the story that it had to tell.
Unraveling around the "Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead)" celebration in Mexico, Coco tells the story of Miguel a kid who is fascinated by music and idolizes Ernesto De La Cruz, a long-dead singer, and performer of the highest repute. But music is considered a sin in his family. He is eager to make a mark as a singer but his whole family is against him. "On the Day of the Dead", after a serious altercation with his family, Miguel steals Ernesto's guitar from his shrine which magically transports him to the world of the dead. Once there he learns the real reason behind his family's hatred for music and also meets a spirit called Hector who would change his life forever.
Using the ethos of the "Day of the Dead" as a backdrop, Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina weave their story effectively, rooting it in the beliefs and myths surrounding the celebration. I had heard of the "Day of the Dead" celebration before but never really tied to understand its significance. Coco beautifully narrates the whole mythology associated with the day and it does so using a story that is so warm and affecting that it is bound to make you emotional. As the film concluded, I could hear many around me sobbing and clearing their noses.
The tears were as much of happiness as they were of a hint of sadness. Death to us has always been final and hence to see a story that speaks of a life after death that to giving you a day to be in the world of the living, even if it is just to touch and feel your loved ones, was a heartwarming experience in itself. The idea of having a life in another world only if you are remembered in the mortal world struck a chord with me. Kudos have to be given to the writers and directors of the film for using this element of the celebration as a time stamp.
I loved the way the film ended. Death never felt so peaceful before. Even though I have no plans of dying anytime sooner, I wish when I die, the other world be like what I saw in Coco. Not only is the world full of animated characters as they ought to be, it is full of magic and humility and is not even devoid of the basic limitations of humanity as it must be. The inclusion of the soul creatures and their association to the mortal world was done beautifully and really made me think whether it could be a real connection?
All the major voice talents in the film namely Anthony Gonzalez, Gael García Bernal, Benjamin Bratt, and Alanna Ubach do exceedingly well. The music of the film is top notch.
Coco is an experience that shouldn't be missed for any reason. Do not mistake it for a children-only fare. The thematic elements that it contains will need a thinking mind to comprehend and absorb fully and hence, it is a film that will appeal more to the grown-ups than the children.